A Marriage Made in Heaven: A Love Story in Lettersby Vatsala Sperling, Ehud Sperling
Disillusioned with love in the Western world, a well-known American book publisher chooses a wildly unorthodox path: advertising in an Indian newspaper for an arranged marriage. A successful, highly educated Tamil Brahmin woman breaks her own culture's tradition and sends him a letter, launching the book's remarkable correspondence. What begins as an epistolary evaluation of compatibility quickly gives way to a yearlong sharing of hearts and minds. Along the way, they raise as many questions as they answer: How will a strict Brahmin family react to a Jewish man raised in New York? How can two strong, independent, and active people negotiate the contemporary minefields of gender roles, career, parenthood, desire, spirituality, and religion before they even meet? Deliciously funny and profoundly moving, this intercontinental, intercultural, interfaith love story may just change how you view relationships.
- Includes more than 75 letters written between the authors during their courtship
- Lavishly illustrated with full-color photographs, including pictures from the wedding ceremony in India
- Ten Speed Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 7.34(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.12(d)
Read an Excerpt
For years, just like millions of my fellow countrymen, I never missed reading the Sunday paper. I rushed through the endless speculations about movie stars joining political parties or forming their own, skimmed past articles on local thugs snatching gold chains from the necks of women on busy avenues, and got hold of one particular section: "Matrimonials." Weekend after weekend, my discerning eyes scanned the columns in search of the door to my future:
Horoscope invited from Madurai native parents of same caste, educated, cultured, beautiful girl for our son, officer in a British multinational firm. We are Tamil Iyer, Vadama, Bharadwaja gotram from Madurai. Box APZ-20, Indian Express.
Smart, well built orthopedic surgeon, Punjabi jat from Jallandhar, having own nursing home, latest model Maruti cars, own house, seeks beautiful, very fair, tall and slender gynecologist/obstetrician from very well to do jat family. Never married girl with good figure and less than 20 years of age. Returnable color photograph and horoscope to Box 2229, The Times of India. Indore.
Yadava, Tirunelveli, in public LTD co in Madras earning 6000 seeks good looking graduate girl from similar background, preferably working in Madras. Horoscope to Box XY2121 Hindustan Times. Delhi-2.
Having examined thousands of such advertisements in four national newspapers, I became an expert in reading between the lines. Even though theadvertisement consisted of only forty to fifty words, I could almost read the mind of the person who had put in the ad. I could easily classify these advertisers as sex crazy, money crazy, figure crazy, color crazy, degree crazy, status crazy, culture crazy, hypocrite, slave driver, egomaniac, bride killer, and so forth.
Say, for example, a fifty-year-old divorced man wants a twenty-year-old fair, smart, girl with a beautiful figure. He is obviously looking for sex with a young babe and not for a mature wife who might be suitable to his temperament and physical conditions. When the advertiser states clearly that he has many modern houses, agricultural land, and the latest cars, and wants a bride from a similar background, he is not likely to be kind and accepting of someone with little or no money. Next, when an ad states the caste, religion, language, family lineage, and region very clearly, and asks for a horoscope, it means that the advertiser will not deviate from the set pattern and would never reply to a letter from anyone except the parents of the girl.
When I first began replying to the advertisements in an effort to find a husband for myself, I repliedby mistake or by chanceto many such ads. In the majority of cases, I never heard back. In a few cases, I received very negative and highly insulting replies. Thus I learned my lesson, and learned the science and the art of reading the fine print. Most of the ads were placed by people whom I did not care to meet or know because they were, for whatever reason, locked up in their own mental prisons. They were in no condition to see that something good might possibly exist beyond their own set of limits, horizons, and beliefs. Very early on, I decided that I would not spend any time chasing people who were blindfolded.
I was seeking a levelheaded, simple, normal, total human being whose value system was the same as mine, who was not suffering from any manias or phobias. This man had to be focused and successful in his chosen or given mission in life. He should move through his life with a cheerful and generous attitude. Week after week I scanned the ads, sighing, "Oh, God, does such a person exist? Where is he? Can I ever meet him? Oh, dear God, will you please show me the right way, give me courage to reach the goal that you have set for me?"
One Sunday, this advertisement caught my attention:
This was one of those precious Sundays when I was off work and spending time at home with Amma, my mother. She was busy, too, scanning the ads in Tamil-language newspapers. I walked over to her and read this ad aloud. She listened, was quiet for a long time, and then said, "Always be aware, use your common sense, be fair and truthful in your actions, trust in God for guidance, and go ahead without fear. Do what you feel is right."
After listening to the wise counsel of my mother, I read the ad again, trying to visualize the person whose mind worked to put these words together. I did feel that this ad was possibly the one that would take me to where I belonged. After all, every event and every moment in life is always loaded with possibilities, both good and bad. To explore these possibilities we must take action.
Go for your pen, move, get started. I heard these words in my mind and reached for my best pen.
This refers to your advertisement that appeared in the Hindu dated March 5. May I introduce myself? I am B. R. Vatsala, a tall, slim, brown-complexioned woman with well-defined sharp features. Born on 1st January, 1961 at Jamshedpur, Bihar in North India, I moved to Nagpur as a student and spent five years earning a bachelor's and a masters degree in microbiology from Nagpur University. It was a memorable as well as happy moment for me when I received a prestigious Gold Medal from the President of India Dr. Sankar Dayal Sharma for standing first in order of merit at the master of sciences (M.Sc., Microbiology) examination. All through my student years, I received many laurels for academic and extracurricular achievements. Besides studies I have other interests too that include painting, knitting, tailoring, photography, and reading for fun. I enjoy Nature. I also happen to be a health enthusiast and a strict vegetarian, though. I learned cooking nonvegetarian food as a student living in a hostel, I have a calm and friendly disposition. I get along well with people and am concerned about their welfare. Presently, since 1991 December, I have been on the staff of a 200-bed pediatric hospital in Madras, working as chief of clinical microbiology services.
As regards my family and cultural background, we are educated, upper-middle-class, Tamil Brahmins, vegetarian, Hindu Indians originating from Madurai. My father worked for TATA Iron and Steel Company for over 45 years. He is a strong, very loud and lively, deeply religious, very honest, and healthy young man of only 81 years. My mother has been a devoted homemaker. In between being a great wife and a mother to six children and eight grandchildren, she somehow found time to maintain a very peaceful, spiritual, happy environment at home and successfully composed nearly 275 original bhajans, songs, and prayer chants in Tamil. She has a delicious sweet voice too, and it is a norm in our household to wake up early in the mornings to the sound of my Holy Mother's prayers and music filling the atmosphere. I have one older brother, who works in life insurance, is married to a banker, and is settled in Madurai. My four older sisters are married, have kids, and are living in various parts of India and abroad. All my siblings are college graduates who had responsible jobs prior to their marriages.
I am looking forward to meeting a suitable man with whom to share life and grow, hence this letter. I am enclosing a photograph of myself. I would be grateful if you could write back at your earliest convenience.
B. R. Vatsala
Ninety-nine percent of the people who scan the matrimonial columns to find a suitable match for their wards would not bother to read this letter. They would consider me a total outcasta strong-headed, footloose feminist who is out of her family's control and hence has low or no moral character. These moral guardians of my society would not waste their time or stationery in replying to my letter. Such was the mentality of my countrymen, my community, and my culture.
Personally, yes, I have great respect for this cultural rigidity so prevalent in India, and see it as a safety device against the moths that threaten the fabric of our cultural and social traditions. No complaints. I didn't wish to bring about a massive transition in the Indian social code and structure. But as far as my own life was concerned, if I ever wanted to find a suitable man and get married, I simply had to be prepared to be a revolutionary, a warrior. I had to be willing and able to be sure of what I wanted, to know how to find it, and to lose no dignity in charting my own path.
Well, my dear, it was one woman against an entire countryagainst thousands of years of established cultural practices.
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